Zenit Coach Luciano Spalletti gave his predictions for Serie A, believing Milan and Napoli are the only real contenders to Juventus.
“Milan are Milan,” Spalletti told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “A year ago everyone said the Rossoneri were ‘horrifying,’ but they still finished in third place and qualified for the Champions League.
“Now they can only grow, as who else has so many talented young players? Mattia De Sciglio is a potential world phenomenon, Stephan El Shaarawy deserves more faith and Mario Balotelli absolutely has to make the final step up.
“At times his exuberance gets the better of him and he loses his place in the game, but when his head is right then he can change a match. Super Mario could take Italy to win the World Cup.
“Milan now also have Kaka, who can make the difference. Ricky cannot afford to look bad or be a disappointment for the fans whose hearts beat faster for him. If he had just the slightest doubt that he was no longer the same Kaka, he wouldn’t have accepted this transfer. His pride will bring out the champion in him.”
Juventus have won the last two Scudetti and Spalletti is surprised at the level of motivation they still show.
“I watched Juve-Lazio and thought how do they manage to always be so rabid for success? Antonio Conte has two great qualities: he is a teacher of football and is very good at forcing his directors to spend big on the transfer market.
“The Bianconeri will try to win the Champions League. That is where Carlos Tevez belongs, as he has the grit and class that’s needed to progress in Europe. Paul Pogba can be the man who lifts the overall quality level of the squad.”
There are other Scudetto contenders to challenge Juventus, though Spalletti only really sees one.
“Rafa Benitez has the right balance for such a fiery club. He reminds me of Ottavio Bianchi, who won the Scudetto with Napoli. Gonzalo Higuain is a top player and I expect Marek Hamsik to make the final step up to superstardom.
“I think Napoli’s greatest strength is off the field, as President Aurelio De Laurentiis does well to remove problems from his Coaches.
“As for Fiorentina, the Della Valle brothers are back on the front line and that is also important, as much as the beautiful football taught by Vincenzo Montella and the Giuseppe Rossi-Mario Gomez pairing. The Viola are excellent, but the Scudetto is a big ask.
“Walter Mazzarri is a magician, but Inter are suffering while the club moves over to new owners. It will take a little time to find the right balance. The Nerazzurri started well and have the best defence in the League.”